Baton Rouge homebuilders bring back lessons, leads from Vegas trade shows

    While many of Baton Rouge’s business stock went to Washington Mardi Gras last week, some local homebuilders, contractors and designers instead traveled west to Las Vegas for the annual Design & Construction Week exposition.

    The three-day event—which took place Jan. 21-23 and attracted some 80,000 people—combined two trade shows both located in the Las Vegas Convention Center: the National Association of Home Builders’ International Builders’ Show (IBS), and the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS). 

    Environmental issues impacting the homebuilding industry dominated much of the conversation among attendees. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler publicly announced, for the first time, the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which rescinds the Obama-era “Waters of the United States” regulation and narrows the extent of federal jurisdiction over certain bodies of water.

    “It’s a big win for us in Louisiana because we have water everywhere, and now the feds finally have a better definition that’s easier to understand,” says Dianne Baum, who chairs the Home Builders Association of Greater Baton Rouge board of directors and also serves on two committees for the national association. “The way it was before, you would’ve taken 70 percent of the land here out of commerce.”

    Beyond the WOTUS revision, however, Baum says she’s concerned about environmental and development issues popping up elsewhere in the country that could negatively impact housing affordability, such as a growing push for electrification that’s gaining traction in Berkeley, California. The movement prohibits gas hookups from homes because of their heavy carbon footprints, which Baum says could be problematic in Louisiana during hurricane season.

    “All these environmental things are great, but to push it really fast and not take baby steps could really cause some trauma in the building industry by increasing costs,” Baum says.

    Meanwhile, about 100 HBA of GBR members registered to attend the event, says organization president Karen Zito, who noticed smart home technology and energy efficiency emerge as key trends after networking and touring the 600,000 net square feet of exhibit space. 

    “We’re now trying to enhance smart home technology in our community,” Zito says.

    Some local businesses—including Blaze Outdoor Products and The Olde Mill—held showcases at the exposition to generate business leads.

    From a 50-by-50-foot booth, Blaze Outdoor Products displayed its full line of products as well as three prototype products the company plans to release this year, says sales manager Jason Thompson, including a pizza oven accessory, a smoker-steamer basket and an electric grill. 

    “We signed a lot of new dealers on the spot, and we have an additional 425 leads to follow up on,” says Thompson, noting leads consist of people with an interest in either becoming a dealer or contractors looking to buy products from one of the company’s existing 1,100 brick-and-mortar dealers. “Now that everyone involved with backyard construction realizes they can make money as grill dealers, this event is our tool to get to those people—a lot of whom we can’t find through our own research.”

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